Dennis was born in Boksburg some 20 odd kilometers east of Johannesburg. From there at a very young age he travelled around South Africa with his parents. His father was a magistrate and as such got transferred all over the place. Dennis attended 8 different schools and all the provinces. As each province has their own school syllabus it was tough going but he passed university entrance exams no problem at all.
It was during the WWII days (1944) that Dennis started to draw with encouragement from his father. There were no art books available but somehow comics such as Mickey Mouse and Goofy were freely available. These were his study materials. Then his father was transferred in 1946 from Caledon in the Cape to Ixopo in Natal. There he had a taste of watercolour painting when the school had special classes (not as a subject) in painting and gardening.
That lasted for about a year when his father was again transferred. This time from an English speaking School to an Afrikaans speaking School at Philipstown in the Northern Cape during July of 1947. Not being able to speak Afrikaans he now had to do all his subjects in Afrikaans and the final exams were only 4 months away. Not only that he had to catch up on work done in the first half of the year. Worse still he had to learn German. Not English to German but Afrikaans to German – horrors! With the kind help of one of the teachers, who took pity on him and gave him extra lessons in German and Science, Dennis managed to pass all his subjects in Afrikaans – including the German exam. He says that he still does not quite comprehend how he managed to do it.
As Philipstown did not cater for higher education he had to attend school in one of the neighbouring towns, Petrusville. There he completed his studies in 1950- all subjects in Afrikaans. By this time he had became very fluent in the Afrikaans language. All this time he had kept up his art on a self-taught basis. There were still hardly any art books available in the shops – if they were, it was only on a very primitive basis and with no colour illustrations at all.
In 1951 Dennis started work in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrates Office as Clerk of the Criminal Court and started study Law but did not like it. He then worked in the Department of Agriculture as Technical Assistant surveying farms. The salary was very low so he tried his hand as a miner in a gold mine at Springs not far from Boksburg. That did not suit him as he was used to the open veld and fresh air.
Eventually he was employed by SASOL Refinery during 1954 as learner draughtsman. There he met his future wife, Anna, and they married in 1958. Later Dennis settled (1965) in his birth town Boksburg and entered the engineering field in earnest and eventually retired at one of the top engineering construction and design firms as senior mechanical (Refinery piping) engineer. Their boardroom still sports 6 large paintings of his concerning various construction projects completed around the country. Other firms in the vicinity have paintings and pencil drawings of animals in their board rooms and foyers.
Dennis has paintings in South Africa, America, Japan, Israel, the UK, Australia, Germany and now in New Zealand.
Dennis also donated 4 large paintings of animals to the Apostolic Faith Mission in Boksburg where he was one of the senior elders for over 12 years. One of these paintings, the Big 5, can be seen HERE (scroll down).
On teaching Art
Dennis often brought some of his paintings to work because others wanted to see them. He sold a lot of paintings this way. (He did not allow the paintings to interfere with his work though). One day one of his colleagues started badgering Dennis to teach him to paint as he was was not satisfied with the teacher he was going to. To cut a long story short, Dennis started to teach with 3 at a kitchen table in a very small studio space. As the news spread he was inundated with requests to be taught how to paint. 4 in the studio filled up and the overflow went through into his office and eventually into the dining room.
Anna was not not too happy with this state of affairs and afraid paint would be spilled on the carpet. Time for action! His double garage had to be cleared out of junk, ceiling put in, wall painted and proper lighting installed. Eventually D-Day came and the new studio was inaugurated. The studio attendance grew and in 1987 he eventually had to register as a business because the Income Tax Dept said that it was no longer classes as a hobby – ouch!
His fame as a teacher grew and eventually he went off on early retirement at the end of January 1984 to become a full time professional art teacher. His studio filled up with 8 classes of 9 each coming to learn each week. He became so popular that he had a 2-year waiting list as most of the existing students simply did not leave. Some stayed with him for over 10 years and became top class artists and well-known in their own rights.
Before he retired from engineering Dennis worked up a system whereby he started to teach people how to draw in 2 days! This became so popular and well-known that even the local Technikons and Universities referred respective applicants to the Paint Basket Pencil Course for drawing training before they could apply for the entrance exam in the arts. He has even adjudicated on behalf of Durban universities for prospective applicants living in the area where Dennis lived.
Dennis was a member of the well-known and very active Art Club – the Edenvale Paint and Palette – where he was a respected member for many years, He regularly gave talks and demonstrations there and also at other art Clubs in the area.
Dennis and his artist son, Nolan, franchised the Studio and the Freeway Park Art Studio’s name was officially changed to The Paint Basket to cater for the national aspect. In the year 2000 The Paint Basket was registered with FASA (Franchise Association of South Africa) as a full member. He and Nolan (franchise manager) eventually built up 5 studios – the owners being ex-students of the Paint Basket. At its peak a combined total of approx 250 students attended weekly classes at the studios – the largest and only fine art franchise in the whole of Africa. In August 2008 Nolan moved his studio to New Zealand and in November 2008 his youngest daughter and family emigrated to New Zealand. In May 2009 Dennis moved the Head Office to New Zealand. Dennis’ eldest daughter and family are still in South Africa. Currently there are 2 studios in South Africa and 2 studios here in New Zealand.
On Art Painting Holidays
Dennis and Nolan were the first to pioneer Art Safaris in South Africa for overseas artists. He trademarked “Painting South Africa” and regularly advertised in the UK Artist Magazine.
(in process of being updated)
Edenvale Paint and Palette Group.
Lastly, I was a member of the above group of artist for many years and became a highly esteemed member and demonstrator. They said that they were very sorry to see me go and wished me well in New Zealand.
Here some excerpts from just 2 of their News Letters:
“Margaret Bree’s watercolour demonstration proved popular with the good turn-out we had in August 18. We are most grateful to Dennis Clark, master artist, who videoed and relayed Margaret’s demonstration on the screen, enabling everyone to have a wonderful view of her painting techniques.“ Spring 2007
“Dennis Clark delighted us with his “cheetah” perfomed in pastel, his demonstration was full of unexpected new tips and hints and the members commented on his peaceful style of teaching. Thank you Dennis, for once again enlightening us on so many new ideas ….” Autumn 2007